Insecure Bosses Do These 2 Things

I previously created a slide deck on the “6 signs of a bad boss” which highlighted what I felt was the 6 most frustrating signs that someone is a bad boss. I guess it resonated with many of you on Linkedin because it turned out to be my most successful posts of all time. That one post garnered more than 15,000 views, 100+ likes and 27 shares.

The slides included points about transparency, being inconsistent, stealing credit, having unreasonable demands, micromanagement and a lack of talent retention. One of the things that didn’t make the list was insecure bosses.

These bosses often do two things:

1. They only hire people less capable than they are.

A boss that is lacking in self-confidence may choose to hire only those whom they deem are less competent than they are. By hiring someone less talented, they can feel superior, thereby validating their place in the hierarchy.

Risk adverse companies with a bureaucratic structure tend to exacerbate the problem. These companies tend to have a very vertical hierarchy and the more levels there are, the less talented each group of employees become as we go down the chain. Eventually, you end up with deadbeats who lack initiative and only work when told to. It’s like a Russian doll. You start with a big doll but as you remove each layer, the doll gets smaller and smaller.

“If you always hire people who are smaller than you are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. If, on the other hand, you always hire people who are bigger than you are, we shall become a company of giants.”

– David Ogilvy

It’s a slippery slope to mediocrity. I recently read the e-book version of The Unpublished David Ogilvy using the NLB Mobile app (which is wonderful, by the way) and in it, there was a quote by the man himself: “If you always hire people who are smaller than you are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. If, on the other hand, you always hire people who are bigger than you are, we shall become a company of giants.”


2. They withhold information.

Knowledge is power as they say. Withholding information limits the ability of subordinates to outshine the bosses. Every decision made by the employee of such a boss is based off incomplete or incorrect information. It’s pretty much office politics.

Then there’s the other method of withholding information. Bosses who keep key work processes and information to themselves, refusing to teach any newcomers into the team. This in essence, makes themselves indispensable. Nobody else will seem competent enough to do the job. As new hires fumble and make mistakes in trying to figure out how things are supposed to be done, they look bad in comparison to the boss who always seems to have to step in and save the day. The boss looks good to his boss and at the same time makes his subordinates look like bumbling idiots who can’t even get a simple job right.

It reminds me of an experience I had at my first job where a manager restricted all knowledge of an essential IT system. What this manager was doing became evident when the manager had to undergo weeks or months of hospitalization leave and the subordinates kept telling us that the only way for things to get fixed was to wait for the manager’s return. This one manager managed to hold an entire company hostage while become indispensable and difficult to fire.

If you’re a fan of chinese kungfu shows, a common trope is one where the master tears out the final page of the kungfu manual and takes the final move to their grave. Sometimes, it’s because they deem the move too dangerous for anyone to master, but also to prevent their disciples from ever surpassing them.

So what can one do? Personally, I’ve always felt that the organisation is more likely to change you than you are able to change it. Companies like this often reward tenure over impact so I’d think you’d be better of jumping ship. To me, the scariest thing that could happen is that you stay on, get lulled into a false sense of security and end up becoming one of those insecure bosses yourself!

Let me know what you think in the comments. Happy to learn from anyone who has dealt with such a situation (and survived!)

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